Microsoft Virtual Earth’s webpage says, “it is an interesting platform for the next generation mapping and location”. Does that mean Microsoft has plans to make it a platform for location based services or applications with geospatial elements?
Microsoft Virtual Earth Technology Specialist, UK
Q1. Microsoft Virtual Earth’s webpage says, “it is an interesting platform for the next generation mapping and location”. Does that mean Microsoft has plans to make it a platform for location based services or applications with geospatial elements?
A Yes that is true, we have very ambitious plans but we have to be clear on what our goals are. We do not want to be in the area of traditional GIS. We do not want to edit geodata. We provide a platform with local contents, maps and aerial images to a broad audience over the Internet. Companies like Google, Yahoo and us try to provide a local search to the broad consumer audience but we also provide a platform where business and governmental applications can be built around.
Q2. Microsoft has been into geospatial field since 1995. How do you see the company’s evolution to products like Windows Local Live and SDKs through MapPoint, Streets & Trips?
A In 1995 we started addressing the consumer front; then in the late 90s we also started in the business of space. At that time we introduced MapPoint as a desktop product. MapPoint comes along with a SDK. There is a COM interface and also an ActiveX-component which you can embed in your own applications. The development language would be VB6, VB.NET or C#.
We also have the MapPoint Web Service, which is a purely standard conform web service. All you need to develop your own custom applications is a development language that understands the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and the Web Services Description Language (WSDL). We do have a couple of customers who are using Linux and Unix as the operating system and Java or PHP as development languages. Maybe we are the only ones in Microsoft who have some sympathy for these more or less competitive products for Microsoft in general.
Q3. Why do most people still prefer products like MapBasic or the MapObjects? MapPoint is still not frequently used in the geospatial domain.
A Talking about the MapPoint desktop product, may be one of the main reasons where you have to search for the difference is that MapPoint is not a traditional GIS. We are targeting the broad audience and some tasks like editing of geodata, certain geographical analysis or spatial mining are not possible with the MapPoint desktop product, which is a relatively cheap product compared to MapInfo and MapObjects. MapPoint is cheap but limited in functionality. It comes with a geo-database in the background in two different versions, MapPoint North America and MapPoint Europe for Central and Western Europe. There is a lot you can do with MapPoint on the desktop, but I agree that there are limitations and there are scenarios where products like the ones you mentioned are preferable.
Q4. For Microsoft it would not have been difficult with the kind of strength it has to add on those few functionalities, but still Microsoft has restricted itself. Why?
A We do have a lot of plans but some require a redesign of the architecture and partly we are doing this redesigning right now. We are trying to make the MapPoint CD products some kind of offline experience for Virtual Earth on one side and on the other side maybe provide an incremental updated feature for the geodata. Right now we don’t have any update functionality at all, so one needs to buy the new version of MapPoint every two years as it is released. However, we will still be targeting a broad audience and not the specialized GIS-experts. So it really depends on what you are looking for. A lot of location based analysis can be done right now and connections to SQL Server or other SQL databases are easily doable.
Q5. If we come to the regional market, where is MapPoint actually being used or sold? What are your plans for South East Asian market and the far East?
A In terms of the desktop products, we currently do not have plans, to provide a version for Southeast Asia. There is a discussion to provide a version for Australia and New Zealand, but it is still in discussion and not yet approved. In terms of the MapPoint Web Service or Virtual Earth and Windows Live Local as the consumer platform, we are addressing Asia and Southeast Asia. The next step will be the launch in Japan. Also on our road map are China, Korea and India.
Q6. So basically will you be covering these countries through Windows Live Local or are you providing data through Virtual Earth as well?
A So far we have street-level coverage in Asia on road maps for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore; these road maps are available in MapPoint Web Service and Virtual Earth as well. In the other Asian countries we do not have street-level coverage yet. We have AND data which allows worldwide routing so that you can calculate the route from Bangkok to Beijing for instance, but we do not have street-level coverage or street-level geocoding for those other Asian countries. That is what we want to achieve in the future. In Windows Live Local, we would also embed business directories.
Q7. What drove Microsoft to acquire Vexcel, which appears to be a very focused vertical domain company in remote sensing?
A The primary focus of Microsoft Vexcel is of course remote sensing, but they have a lot more capabilities. But the most important part that drove us is that there are 150 very bright guys, most of them are PhD’s and they have a lot of experience in handling imageries, in generating three dimensional models of the real world and elevation models out of the stereo images, which have been created with their UltraCam. So there are some products which they create that fit directly into our Virtual Earth vision and besides that there is the huge potential in this company to solve some of the challenges that we have, like the continuous updates of the huge amount of data.
Q8. Microsoft Virtual Earth is more towards providing 3D data through web services, so what are the challenges that you are facing and the plans that you have?
A In general we want to have at least for the web based applications to get best representation of the real world, which means that we have to have some three dimensional data as well. Strategy as of now is that unlike our competitors, we do not want to have rich client applications but everything in the browser. This is of course a challenge but we are about to master these challenges.
Q9. What about the mobile applications of Virtual Earth for local services?
A There is currently an application available on the web which accesses Virtual Earth in a way that it can
be used on SmartPhones and PocketPCs and there is a developer site ‘Via Virtual Earth’, where you find a J2ME-Version for Symbian phones. So there are already some applications where one can use Virtual Earth on mobile phones. In the future we are to have some kind of officially supported mobile applications as well. We also intend to have more community related content so that we build a community around Virtual Earth where everybody can enter localized contents. E.g. one can know about the next Madonna concert at the Wembley stadium and share his knowledge so that we have an official business directory and the user added content as well. It all comes to the fact that it might be easy with a nice new feature to attract people to your website but it is something different to get them back to your site; you want them as a returning visitor.